IRISH LEAGUE: Gerard Lyttle and David Jeffrey get come positive news

David Jeffrey
David Jeffrey

After Cliftonville maintained their fine home form at Ballymena United’s expense, both managers were relieved to disclose positive news on the injury front.

A James Knowles penalty and close-range conversion from Jude Winchester were, in conjunction with a fine display from goalkeeper Peter Burke, enough for the Reds to pocket full points but, having seen players exit the stage with injury in the first-half, both Gerard Lyttle and David Jeffrey were hopeful in their admittedly amateur diagnosis.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that Ruairi Harkin’s isn’t as bad as it looked,” said Lyttle, who lost the midfielder to an horrific-looking fall just before the interval.

“It wasn’t an impact injury and you’re always worried when someone goes down when they’re on their own like that.

“We feared the worst at the time and it didn’t look good from his reaction, but we’re hopeful that it was just a bit of an awkward twist.

“We’ll get him a scan before we can confirm anything, but it’s looking a wee bit better than it did at the time.”

As for Ballymena, it was a case of one in, one out when Conor McCloskey’s hamstring complaint opened the door for Fra McCaffrey to return to action from the bench - and bossman Jeffrey expects striker Johnny McMurray to be back from his ankle injury sooner rather than later.

“Obviously it’s not good news for Conor McCloskey and it was disapppointing to see him go off, but I’m delighted for Francis McCaffrey that he was able to make his comeback,” said the Sky Blues supremo.

“He has been out for quite some time but his performance was very good and he was unlucky not to score - young Burke has made an absolutely phenomenal save to deny him.

“Johnny McMurray’s ‘waterboot’ is off earlier than had been expected, so that’s a good sign, while Gary Thompson has started his rehabilitation after his knee had kept him out.”

The visitors were not without chances of their own – but the Reds did enough to get themselves over the line.

Having already seen a penalty appeal turned down by referee Tim Marshall, Cliftonville broke the deadlock when Knowles converted from the spot after Kyle Owens had blocked a Davy McDaid drive with a hand.

Burke’s smart save from Cathair Friel maintained the home side’s advantage early in the second period ahead of Winchester making it 2-0 when he touched McDaid’s in from close range.

Winchester and Friel exchanged chances before United’s Willie Faulkner was denied by the base of the post, with Friel smashing his follow-up wide.

Burke made another fantastic one-handed stop to thwart Fra McCaffrey as the visitors sought a route back into the contest but, try as they might, there was no way through as the Reds held on to claim the points.